Saturday, September 29, 2007

eastern promised

i went last weekend with a couple friends to see david cronenberg's latest film, eastern promises. i posted earlier that i was eagerly expecting this film as well as a few others. in the intermediate time between when i was first aware of the movie coming out and when i saw it i had developed a rather heady expectation of what the film would be like. in particular i was struck by the poster featuring a pair of heavily tattooed hands, which belong to viggo mortenson's character. the film was in short, one of the most, if not the most, heavily violent films i have ever seen. it is not that the entire movie is violent because it isn't, there are really only about three or four scenes of violence. but each scene is a puncture in the narrative flow of the film. the actual violence itself is arresting, and because it is so jarring, it forces you to be on edge during the remainder of the film. in the final battle mortenson's character, nikolai, faces a couple of chechen thugs in a steam room. cronenberg intensifies the sound of skin on skin, giving each punch, cut and slash of the knife greater aural and visual impact. the scene was so intense that instead of gasps in the audience, there were laughs. it was as if those watching the scene simply had no recourse to the emotional toll the scene took. to gasp, or otherwise recoil, would be to not give the scene its proper emotional due.
the performances were a bit of a mixed bag. i was particulary bothered by the fact that there were not, as far as i could tell, any native russian speakers. because i know russian, and spent some time in russia, i notice things like this. when they spoke in russian they spoke very slowly, and when they spoke in english the thick russian accents where spotty. this was especially the case for vincent cassell whose accent was inconsistent at best. mortenson's accent was at times a bit overdone, otherwise he turned in a remarkable performance. at times his character was servile, at other times steely and ruthless. he handled the nuances of his character with remarkable deftness. the finest performances were put on by armin meuhler-stahl as the godfather of the russian mob, the vory v vaskonye. he was at times gentle and fatherly, yet with a constant threat of menace behind his twinkling blue eyes. naomi watts turned in the other outstanding performance as a frightened midwife who discovers a dead girls diary.
i wanted to like this movie a lot more than i did. perhaps it was because i had such a heightened sense of expectation going into it. it is a good movie, and one of the better films to come out this year, but not a great movie by any stretch.
now my attention is turned to Wes Anderson's new film, The Darjeeling Limited. Here is an article from new york magazine on one of my favorite directors. enjoy.

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